The answers to some of the most important scientific questions of our era may lie deep in the Antarctic ice sheet, in some of the most remote and least hospitable places on Earth.

Science in the Antarctic interior is a logistically challenging business, with its long distances, freezing temperatures, shifting ice and extreme winds.

One of the scientific ‘holy grails’ in Antarctica is the search for glacial ice that formed over a million years ago.

Australia is taking a leading role in this international quest for the ‘oldest ice’, developing a traverse capability or 'tractor train' to transport people and equipment across the continent.

Once at the preferred drill site, a mobile inland station will be set up. Scientists will then spend 4-5 summers drilling down 3000 metres into the ice cap to collect ice cores.

These cores will provide a snapshot into past climate and help better predict future changes.

A modern, deep-field traverse capability offers scientists the opportunity to access the entire Australian Antarctic Territory.

The traverse capability will include:

  • tractors
  • snow groomers
  • accommodation vans
  • scientific labs and tents
  • fuel tanks
  • intra-continental aviation operations to the traverse and mobile inland station.

The traverse train will be able to travel more than 1000 kilometres inland in Antarctica.

Once at the drilling site, support personnel will be able to set up a ski landing area for aircraft, which will offer a secondary route in and out of the mobile inland station.

The development of the traverse capability and search for the million year ice core were outlined in the Australian Antarctic Strategy.